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Ten Years Later, Snake Eater is Still the Best in the Metal Gear Solid Franchise
In this series, I take a look at some of the most beloved gems spanning Sony’s (almost) two decades in the gaming industry. Potential spoilers ahead. (Click here for last week’s entry.)
Usually I try to devote this list to lesser known games, or at least games with something of a rabid, cult following. You know, the games where their fans defend them unconditionally and spend all their spare time creating fan art and/or fanfiction. I’m breaking that mold this week with an extremely popular entry: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Why Snake Eater in lieu of any of the other Metal Gear Solid titles? Simply put, I thought Metal Gear Solid 3 far outdid any of the other games in the series (bear in mind I have yet to play Peace Walker; it’s on my to-do list).
While Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty were both interesting for placing the setting in the (then) near future, Metal Gear Solid 3 changed things up by ticking time back to the 60s—and ousting Solid Snake for his identical predecessor, Naked Snake, who just so happened to also be Big Boss. Yeah, Hideo Kojima is slick like that. In any case, the past setting allowed Kojima to have a little bit of fun with history without being bogged down in the historical fiction genre. Rather, the Cold War served as a convenient backdrop, and Russia made for a superb setting that hearkened back to the jungle setting of the original Metal Gear.
Perhaps what was most impressive about Snake Eater was how seamless the game felt. Never once did I feel Kojima was straining to connect the dots. Yes, Metal Gear Solid 3 was a prequel to the entire franchise, but never did it come off as a cliche origin story where the developers tried too hard to throw in characters who had no business being included. Ocelot, the most notable inclusion, seemed more an integral part of the tale than the developers saying, “Oh, man, let’s see if we can throw as many characters from the original game in here and flesh out their backstory.” It was impeccably crafted, almost as if Kojima had planned out the story to Snake Eater before conceiving the plots for the later games. (This is in stark contrast to Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, which I felt took a ridiculous turn in its epilogue when Big Boss is suddenly still alive and something of a protagonist.)
Of course, the most impressive feat of the third installment was the revelation that Naked Snake turned out to be Big Boss. While it may not have been altogether shocking, it was wonderful to see Big Boss in the protagonist role and some of the events that led to his transformation. Granted, the sequels that continue Big Boss’s story have seemed to undo a lot of that, but we’re just talking about Metal Gear Solid 3 for now.
Of course, one of my favorite aspects of Metal Gear Solid 3, like all Metal Gear Solid games, is the gameplay. While stealth has always been the biggest aspect of the series, Snake Eater was able to take it a step farther with the camouflage mechanic. This would be replicated in later installments, notably Guns of the Patriots, where Snake’s suit could adapt to its environments. Snake Eater’s take was obviously more primitive, though, and it worked as well as you might imagine. Another nifty addition (and one that I utilized far more than was necessary) was the ability to slit your enemies’ throats while strangling them. Of course, if you were like me, this made for an incredibly lengthy encounter with The Sorrow in the river.
As for the characters, I found the cast in this game to be the strongest of any in the series. The romance between Snake and EVA was done exceptionally well, as was the mentor/student relationship between Snake and The Boss, which took a decidedly anguishing turn in the end. The villains, however crazy and fantastical as they were, remain embedded in my mind, and some of the boss encounters are the strongest in the series (the sniper battle against The End, for instance). Colonel Volgin I found to be particularly dynamic, as much as I hated him (in a love to hate kind of way). And then there’s The Boss…she goes without saying!
All in all, Metal Gear Solid 3 was just a fantastic game, from the gameplay to the characters to the oft-confusing plot. It also marks the final point in the series where the plot was still really cool; it just started taking some less clever turns in subsequent titles. With Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Ground Zeroes landing within our grasp soon, we will once again revisit the world of Big Boss (even if he won’t be the same, thanks to Mr. Sutherland…grrr), though I seriously doubt this outing will prove as interesting or well-crafted as Snake Eater. Only time will tell.